MIAMI—The Miami Dolphins beat the Ravens at their own game last night.
Unleashing a pass rush that sacked quarterback Tony Banks six times - including twice on the goal line - the Dolphins dealt the Ravens a 19-6 dose of reality before 73,464 and a national TV audience at rain-soaked Pro Player Stadium.It was Miami's defense that dictated in this game, and the Dolphins' offense that proved troublesome.
"Every aspect of the game, they physically beat us," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's not about schemes, it's not about coming off an emotionally big win.
"We got physically beat by a very good team. Both sides of the ball - offense and defense - beat us to the punch. There's no explanation, no excuse for it."
No short-term relief, either.
The Ravens' first loss of the season dropped them into a three-way tie for the AFC Central Division lead with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns at 2-1.
"It's going to be a long ride home," Banks said. "I think a lot of us were envisioning ourselves 3-0, playing a home game next week, and that didn't happen. This is another test for us to see how we bounce back from a loss. We haven't lost too much here lately.
"I think we'll be all right. We've got good character people around here. We've just got to get back to work."
A week after the Ravens overturned a 17-0 deficit against the Jaguars to notch an exhilarating win, they spotted the Dolphins (2-1) a 13-point lead and never made up the difference.
The Ravens' offense disappeared in the torrential rains of Hurricane Gordon that pelted the area in the first half, and resurfaced only sporadically in the second.
"The weather took a little away from our game," Billick said. "Had it not been raining in the first half, I don't know if it would've changed things."
The Ravens had their chances, however. Altogether, they had four penetrations in the red zone - reaching the 12-, 1-, 15- and 18-yard lines - and all they had to show for it was a pair of Matt Stover field goals. Stover, whose streak of 22 consecutive field goals was broken when his 30-yard attempt at the end of the first half was tipped at the line of scrimmage, hit from 27 and 33 yards.
Baltimore's best opportunity came early in the second half after Lamar Smith punched over for a 7-yard touchdown run for the Dolphins.
From their own 23, the Ravens drove to first-and-goal at the Miami 1 in nine plays. A 6-yard run by fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, behind a clearout block by center Jeff Mitchell, carried to the 1.
Over the next three plays, the Ravens had to burn two timeouts and absorbed two critical sacks to back them up to the 10-yard line.
A safety blitz by Brian Walker on first down dropped Banks at the 9. A second-down scramble by Banks got them back to the 3. A third-down sack by Jason Taylor left them staring at a field goal.
Three plays inside the 10. Three aborted pass plays. Billick defended the play calls "because we could not physically shove it in," he said.
Banks accepted blame for the failed pass protection, saying he held the ball too long. Billick spread the blame liberally.
"When it broke down, it was because someone got his ass kicked," he said. "The weather had something to do with it. It was hard to hold onto the ball. We had some miscues. But when there was pressure on the quarterback, someone across the line was getting his ass kicked. There is no other way around it."
The Ravens gave up as many sacks in the first half - four - as they did in the first two games combined. Taylor collected a career-high 2.5 himself.
Not even a handful of big plays from rookie running back Jamal Lewis, who had runs of 45, 17 and 10 yards, could get the Ravens to the end zone.
Banks completed 19 of 31 passes for 189 yards, but fumbled twice and was intercepted at the Miami 4 in the first half when he underthrew wide receiver Patrick Johnson and hit cornerback Patrick Surtain instead.
That gift came two plays after defensive end Rob Burnett caught a Jay Fiedler pass that clattered off the hands of running back Thurman Thomas and was in the possession briefly of James Trapp.
While Banks struggled with the elements and the Miami pass rush, Fiedler, making his fourth NFL start at quarterback, emerged as a viable performer for the Dolphins.
After hitting just four of nine passes in the first half, Fiedler went 7-for-7 for 121 yards and a touchdown in the second - after the Dolphins staged an elaborate halftime show to retire the jersey of retired quarterback Dan Marino. Fiedler's improvisational 8-yard scoring pass to Smith three plays into the fourth quarter proved huge.
Chased out of the pocket and running to his right, Fiedler flipped a short pass to Smith at the 5, and Smith beat safety Rod Woodson to the goal line.
That touchdown, set up by a 41-yard pass-and-run to tight end Jed Weaver, gave the Dolphins a 19-3 lead. Olindo Mare, who kicked field goals of 42 and 41 yards in the first-half downpour, missed the extra point.
The Ravens came back to get another field goal. Trailing 19-6, they drove to the Miami 18 before a third-down scramble and a fourth-down incompletion by Banks terminated any comeback dream.
"They threw some different stuff at us, but this is the NFL," said left guard Edwin Mulitalo, who recovered one of Banks' fumbles in the first half. "If you can't handle those kinds of things, you don't need to be here. When it came down to it, they got their job done, they got their game plan done, and we didn't."
Billick was succinct in his postmortem.
"They kicked our ass," he said. "Put it in quotations, put it behind any question you have, and that'll just about answer it."